I'm a HUGE Glenn Gould fan so if you like his style and don't mind the "humming," it's a true masterpiece (vinyl version) sounds good (Columbia Records).
2nd choice is Alfred Brendel. Different but very enjoyable, (cd version, Philips label).
I've only heard these two and they are different formats...can't give you any recommendations for a supreme recording. Both artists have completely different styles so you be the judge...
Wilhelm Kempff's performance on DGG is direct, thoughtful and full of grace.
(I believe he was a Schnabel student. No?)
There is no absolute "best". My favorite's of currently available CD's of living artists are Richard Goode (his whole set is excellent) Brendel on Phillips mentioned above, and last, but NOT least, Ivan Moravec who's VIA Audio CD also includes the Appassionata, Pathetique and the Les Adieux Sonatas as well. This last CD is not only excellent but the recording is outstanding as well.
I agree with newbee re Richard Goode, and imo Glen Gould is great playing Bach but not so great playing Beethoven. Good Luck..there are really so many to choose from.
My personal favorite is Horowitz,but the recording is "average".
John Atkinson helped record and master Robert Silverman playing all 32 of Beethoven's Sonatas, available from Orpheum Masters. I purchased mine on the Stereophile website for about $70 a few years back for the 10 disk set, a great value. If you like the Moonlight, you will probably enjoy getting to know the set. Excellent recording, though I am not qualified to compare the performance versus the other recommendations.
Emil Gilels also wonderful,
v. ashkenazy- london- the big 3 beethoven sonatas.
just a terrific beethoven/mozart/chopin etc. player.
saw him once. never missed a beat for 2 hrs by himself.
totally effortless- makes it look so easy.
The Ashkenazy 23,21,14 on London are a very involving interpretation.
I also enjoy those three (Appassionata, Waldstein, Moonlight) on another London recording by Friedrich Gulda.
(London Treasury Series STS 15584)
As a follow up to my previous post, the Gulda readings from London are actually a 1983 reissue of an earlier Decca recording from 1973.
Thanks everyone, for your excellent recommendations! I spent a large portion of today at Amazon researching each one and had a blast doing it. One thing I can't figure out - why is the Goode so polarizing? It seems some people love it and others can't stand it. In any case, I couldn't pick just one so I ordered the Kempff 32 sonata set on DG and the Ashkenazy popular sonatas on London for a different perspective.
Kempff and Ashkenazy are both exceptional choices and would probably be my two safest recommendations. Gould was brilliant, but his style is polarizing and the re-edits he did on many of his recordings just drive me insane from an audio perspective. I'm embarassed to admit that they taint my enjoyment of some of his pieces.
Notable in its absence thus far is mention of Solomon... he is responsible for my favorite interpretation of this particular piece. Well, favorite at the moment ;) Still, brilliant.
Other votes from around here (work) are: Horowitz, & Richter
For the best Moonlight sonata, I'd recommend Emil Gilels on DG. Simply perfect. Radu Lupu also made an interesting Moonlight sonata recording on London's Weekend Classics label, marred only by the somewhat understated 3rd movement.
The one you play yourself on the piano in your den/livingroom. Seriously - who didn't learn Moonlight Sonata while taking piano lessons as a kid?
My favorite way to play this back then was as fast as possible. It's a whole different song that way. Damn, you could probably put drums to it and "rock-out" :-)